Prānāyāma is a Sanskrit word alternatively translated as "extension of the prana" or "breath control."
Breath is the bridge between the body and mind.... When the breath is still, the mind is still. When the breath wonders, the mind wonders.
Or in the kink world known as Breath play, Erotic asphyxiation or Choking.
Probably one of the more common kinks, which can also be the most dangerous if done incorrectly, it can be a pretty taboo subject to talk about... and asking someone to choke you during play can get a very mixed response!So what is the appeal anyway? When you're having your breath controlled, it is one of the ultimate surrenders, you literally put your life in someone else's hands and there is a lot of trust and excitement that can come with it! If you're someone who loves to feel vulnerable it can be a thrilling experience and something that deeply connects you and your partner who you have surrendered to. Another aspect is the 'High' one feels when having their breath constricted. Like in yogic pranayama, when you control the breath you can alter your state of consciousness and deepen your sense of bliss. Kumbaka is the retention of air (Antara while you hold breath in, Bahira when you have exhaled all your air and held) and the Kumbaka is considered an extremely powerful place due to it being like a state of death, this is why often in pranayama exercises you will try to hold your breath for extended periods between the inhalation and exhalation.
'Between these 2 kumbaka there is the witness, there is shunga (the void) and there is nothingness.'
Also, breath play is working around the Vishuddhi chakra, a part of the spiritual body associated with effortless bliss and the centre of silence and subjectivity. The element is ether/space. If you do push your play to the point where you momentarily pass out, it can be a very spiritual experience for some people, often likening it to various drugs and having strange DMT like effects. Though like all substance experimentation, this should never be pushed too often as one should aim to have these sensations through simple meditation and not through relatively dangerous practices. It is however a very unique and intense experience to have, and especially to share with someone you are connecting with. It can be very disorientating so it is something you want to experiment with in a safe and comfortable environment. What is happening on a physiological level?
On erotic asphyxiation- "The carotid arteries (on either side of the neck) carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. When these are compressed, as in strangulation or hanging, the sudden loss of oxygen to the brain and the accumulation of carbon dioxide can increase feelings of giddiness, lightheadedness, and pleasure, all of which will heighten sexual sensations."
"When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it induces a lucid, semi-hallucinogenic state called hypoxia. Combined with orgasm, the rush is said to be no less powerful than cocaine, and highly addictive."
And a full choke-out- "The mechanics behind choke-outs are disputed. It has been explained as resulting from directly constraining blood flow to the brain. A competing theory involves compression of the baroreceptors of the carotid artery, confusing the body into thinking blood pressure has risen. Due to the baroreflex, this causes vasodilation, or widening of the brain's blood vessels intended to relieve high pressure. Since no blood pressure increase has actually occurred, the dilation causes a dramatic decrease in blood pressure to the brain, or brain ischemia, which then causes loss of consciousness."
My experience with breath play-
The first time a guy choked me during sex, it triggered me hard.He was a good friend, but was unaware that as part of my depression and self harm, I used to choke myself to try to numb the feelings I had, so I had a very negative association. This is why we should never presume and put a hand to someones throat in that way without prior discussion- especially if someone has been abused with choking and they have intense trauma around it. It wasn't long into my sex life until I was comfortable to do it again and I enjoyed it a lot and found it to be very healing to turn around that association and instead find it turning me on! I wasn't into spirituality at that point and was just a masochist who liked to get high, but as I've grown and experimented with it in a more conscious way, I've found it to have some extremely profound effects and is still one of my biggest turn-ons to have someones hand around my throat in a loving yet confident way. Now it is actually quite hard for me to get choked out because I relax and get into such a deep meditative state while being choked that my body doesn't have the reaction to pass-out even when being pushed really hard! It's a shame because I do love the experience of passing out completely and regaining consciousness with someone I love, but I still enjoy the breath play no matter what the goal. Like orgasms, its better to not try to push for the result and just enjoy the journey!
Breath play is never completely safe, there is always some form of risk in anything to do with constricting airways, especially if you perhaps have an underlying health problem that you might not even be aware of. Always start slow and don't rush things. This is some guidance for adding more consciousness and safety to your practice but I take no responsibility for any accidents or incidents that may occur through your own experimentation. The person who is having their breath controlled has as much responsibility as the one doing the restrictions to ensure their own safety and call it to a stop if something feels off.Having a signal to stop (like a safe word but we can't use words while in this type of play) is ESSENTIAL. Talk about it first and practice it, I usually use a double tap on a body part of my partner. Always feel around on your own body first before playing with someone else or having someone else do it to you, this is to help make sure you know what feels right and what doesn't. Try to avoid doing this standing until you are more experienced as often people may collapse to the ground and this could hurt, a bed is always the safest place to play. Don't rush and don't push yourself too far if you're not sure! Simply having hands around your throat can be a really nice feeling without the need to push for breath control. Is getting 'choked out' safe? Well, in martial arts, fighters are often choked out hundreds of times in their careers. I learned a lot from Martial Artists about choking and this is where I get most of my knowledge from. Some of the most common issues include burst blood vessels (you usually feel this as an intense pressure around your eyes before it happens, I felt it once and tapped out before it burst but some people push it further and experience it but it is something which heals)
* After 4 to 6 minutes of sustained cerebral anoxia, permanent brain damage will begin to occur,but the long-term effects of a controlled choke-out for less than 4 minutes (as most are applied for mere seconds and released when unconsciousness is achieved) are disputed. However, everyone should note that generally loss of oxygen is never safe and always (even if minimal) causes death of brain cells. There is always risk of short-term memory loss, haemorrhage and harm to the retina, concussions from falling when unconscious, stroke, seizures, permanent brain damage, coma, and even death. (from wikipedia)
FEELING AROUND THE THROAT
There are 2 main areas you want to be aiming for, the top of the neck and lower towards the bottom.Opening your hand from your jaw line and sliding down to the very top of your neck, place your thumb on one side of your neck and your other fingers on the other side. The space between your thumb and index finger should be around the middle of your neck (above the Adam's apple for men) You can feel a softer area where you can gently apply some pressure evenly on each side, you should very quickly feel some lightheadedness. You should still be able to breath while the pressure is on this area, I like to deepen my breathing and inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth but do whatever type of breathwork you prefer, in general nose-breathing is more mental focused, while mouth-breathing is more body, combining the 2 can work well to sync the mind and body. In the middle of your throat is the larynx where we never want to apply pressure, this is very uncomfortable and will generally make you cough if you push on it, and is what could cause death if it is damaged. If you play partner put their hand here, make sure you move it away and re position it in the right area. Even very experienced people can get carried away and have their hand slip to the no-go-zone so don't feel bad to correct them (if you're sudden coughing fit doesn't alert them sooner)Below the middle zone there is also another area that contains the artery that is a good place to experiment with, you want more of a downward pressure from your hand here towards the collarbone pressing in and outward. You can also try with both hands, using the palm of your hands to press in to the desired area then outward.
TALKING ABOUT IT.
So before you get into your play zone, make sure you and your chosen partner are both comfortable with the idea and have read this information, done some extra research if desired (always recommended!) and that you have felt around on your own body before moving to eachother.Make sure you've agreed on a signal like a tap-out and that you feel confident to use it. If you find your partner intimidating and don't think you are comfortable to call a stop then reconsider who you try this with, you should always feel empowered to take control of the situation, even in a submissive position, if you are trying something like this. Be prepared- If someone does go unconscious from breath play, their body may shake a bit, this can be a bit scary for the person on the giving side but try not to stress out too much unless it keeps going for more than 10 seconds or so.
MAKING A RITUAL
If you and your chosen play partner are ready to experiment on each other, it can be really amazing to set the space and make the experience into a sacred space.Get a comfortable area set up with a lot of cushions, set the ambience (think all senses- music, smells, tastes, fabrics, lighting) and get comfortable. Start with some eye gazing to connect with each other, ideally for at least 5 minutes. Try to sync your breathing and deepen the breaths together. 'Yab Yum' is a great position to try this in, as you can remain very close and connected and feel their breath and see into their eyes. Another great position is to have the receiver laying in front of the giver, between their legs with their head on the chest of the giver (so the giver should have their back up and supported like on the head of the bed) and be in a comfortable embrace. You can also just kneel before each other, there are lots of options :) It can be nice for the person receiving to say something along the lines of 'I trust you, I give myself to you, I'm grateful to connect in this way' and the giver to reply along the lines of 'I care for you, I am thankful for your trust and I hope you have a blissful experience'The first time it is best to not push for a full choke-out, it is best to start slower and build up. Place your hands and get feedback from your partner, have the receiver move your hands to a better position if necessary. Start with just enough pressure that you can feel their pulse in your hand. Tune into the feeling of their pulse, watch their face and keep watch for changes and any signs of panic. Start with about 15-20 seconds, release pressure and let them continue breathing deep. If you're intimate in that way, give them a kiss and see their reaction. If they enjoyed it, repeat again for a bit longer and if they want, a little more pressure. Do this 3-4 times, holding and releasing, then give them a break and have a tight hug. Aftercare is an important part of any power-play to make the receiver feel held and safe. Get some feedback and then switch if you wish, I always think its important to both try each side as it teaches us a lot about the whole experience.If you're a hetero couple, often the women can find it difficult to give enough pressure, or that their hands are too small. It is likely they will need to use both hands, using the palms of the hand on each side and the fingers wrapped around the neck, supporting the back of the neck and adding extra pressure with a pulling motion so you are squeezing the neck. Once you are done, finish with some breathes together, perhaps some OM chants to move the energy through your body and finish the ritual and have a connecting, honest discussion after about your experience.
With the previous exercises, you aren't actually restricting the breathing so much as the blood flow from the arteries, but by playing with the breath too, you can intensify the experience.This is done by intermittently covering the mouth and nose after the receiver has inhaled. holding for about 10 seconds then releasing. This takes a lot of trust so its for couples who are very connected and have experimented enough to take it further. Tools can be used to, like a gas mask where you can cover the filter and stop the breath.Pillows are also a frequently used sex-toy for breath control, though as you can't see their face while you control their breath, you need to be ready for tapping and other signals. If you're confident in finding the right areas of the throat, sarongs or other fabric can be great to use for applying pressure on the throat... just make sure its a nice feeling fabric that won't cause fabric burns. Shibari rope is also great for this. So play safe, conscious kinksters. Know your limits and take care of each other, and remember communication, safety and after-care are crucial!